It Still Is Not About the Truth

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It’s Not About The Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered. Don Yeager with Mike Pressler. New York: Threshold Editions, 2007, 321 Pages, $25.

For more than a year, the infamous Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault Case has held front-and-center in the news. Readers of this page, as well as others, know about three lacrosse players being falsely charged with rape and other crimes. The name Michael B. Nifong has become synonymous with prosecutorial abuse and outright lying.

Yet, until last week, when the North Carolina State Bar disbarred the rogue Nifong and a local judge later unceremoniously kicked him out of his office, only one person had lost his job over this affair: Mike Pressler, the former coach of the Duke University lacrosse team. Pressler had to endure the lies that he let the team run wild, that he coddled a bunch of racists and rapists, and the unfair symbolism of being the enabler of White Jocks Gone Wild.

It’s Not About The Truth is a collaborative effort between Don Yaeger, a veteran sportswriter formerly of Sports Illustrated, and Pressler, who kept a diary of all the goings on that would define this event rightly called a "fiasco" by Lane Williamson, the North Carolina attorney who chaired the bar hearings. We learn how the charges broke, what happened in the immediate aftermath of when word leaked that the lacrosse team allegedly raped stripper Crystal Gail Mangum at a party where she and another stripper "performed," and what happened when people in Durham and at Duke University decided that the charges — no matter how fantastic — just had to be true.

The title comes from a statement that Duke Athletic Director Joe Alleva said when he told Pressler that he wanted his resignation. When Pressler said, "We must stand for the truth," Alleva replied, "It’s not about the truth anymore." He went on, "It’s about the integrity of the university, it’s about the faculty, the city, the NAACP, the protesters, and the other interest groups."

Indeed, Alleva said what has become the "truth" about higher education in the United States, that being that while university administrators such as Duke President Richard Brodhead speak of "integrity" and the like, in the end, they try to convince the rest of us that "integrity" does not need the "truth" to accompany it. The irony is that in seeking the supposed "integrity" of Duke University, Alleva and Brodhead showed that neither they nor anyone else in authority at Duke has a whit of it.

If you want to know about the events surrounding the affair, I would highly recommend this book. Granted, I doubt it will be as comprehensive as the upcoming book, Until Proven Innocent by K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, but that book does not come out until September, and while both writers were "insiders" in terms of being fed information from the defense, neither had the ringside seat that Pressler "enjoyed."

The one drawback of the book is that it was hurriedly put together, but given the dates and events and deadlines, that is to be expected. Ironically, the release of the book was June 12, the same day that Nifong’s hearing with the North Carolina State Bar began, so readers of the book already had a sense of the massive crimes that Nifong committed in pursuit of the Great White Lacrosse Players.

In reading this book — which can be done in a day, despite its length — I could not imagine the stress and outright fear that must have been a daily portion of the lives of Mike Pressler and his family. Threatening telephone calls were on the regular menu, as well as signs placed in the yard demanding that the entire team confess to the alleged rape. Finally, in fear for his life and for the lives of his family, his wife and children moved out of the house to a safe place.

But that was not all. Pressler received two threatening emails from Duke student Chauncey Nartey, a black student who had been born in Africa, and was a favorite among the Duke administration. For writing an email that threatened Pressler’s daughter, Brodhead "punished" Nartey by having him attend Duke functions as an example of a "prized" student at the university. (Yes, the administration requested that Nartey "apologize," but he faced no discipline.)

No, one cannot make up this stuff. By the time Brodhead canceled the team’s season on April 5, as well as firing Pressler, the lacrosse players already were on the run. If they went to class, professors outright accused them of being rapists — in front of other students. Even being on campus meant having to run a gauntlet of cursing and screaming students, as well as wanted posters with their pictures and signs demanding that they be castrated.

To make matters worse, 88 faculty members signed an advertisement in the April 6 Duke Chronicle that all-but-declared the team to be rapists, and that Duke University was little more than a repository for the Ku Klux Klan. It was the madness that seems to infect elite universities in full flower. About a month before the infamous March 13 lacrosse team party, the leftists on the Harvard University faculty drove out Harvard President Lawrence Summers for some mildly controversial remarks made during a conference presentation. No doubt, Brodhead did not want to anger Duke’s vocal radical faculty members, so he did the convenient thing: he threw the players and their coach under the bus.

The craven attitudes at Duke were not limited to Alleva, Brodhead, and the radical faculty. John Burness, the corpulent Duke vice president, according to the book, regularly slimed the players and Pressler in "off-the-record" remarks to the press. Thus, reporters were told that the players were "bad actors," with the coach having been warned the year before that his team was a "train wreck waiting to happen."

Unfortunately for Burness, there was no "train wreck" document. The year before, Duke lost in the NCAA championship game by one goal against Johns Hopkins (the same fate that befell the team this year), and the Duke administration awarded Pressler with a big raise and a long-term contract. It was not a team "out of control" by any means.

However, Burness’ slanderous remarks hit their intended targets. Most of the major news outlets across the country had the lacrosse players pegged as "bad actors," and even now we still are bombarded with "they were not choirboys" and the infamous Ryan McFadyen email.

In the spring of 2006, Nifong held the upper hand, as well did the radicals at Duke. Nifong had three indictments and the judges in his hip pocket. He routinely lied to judges and defense attorneys about evidence, something that ultimately caught up to him a year later and destroyed his career. However, at that time, we did not know what we do now. There were three young men indicted and a prosecutor hell-bent on taking them to trial, and potential jurors in Durham eager to convict, no matter how specious the evidence.

Pressler also struggled. He was out of work, his family was under siege, and no one was interested in hiring a coach who had been forced out of his job in a scandal. Finally, Bryant University in Rhode Island, which plays in NCAA Division II, gave him a job. To understand the magnitude of this fall in coaching prestige, imagine the coach of UCLA’s 2006 NCAA runner-up basketball team being forced out and coaching at a small school in Oregon the next year. It almost is unthinkable, yet it happened.

As Pressler recalls those very dark days, he speaks of being close to his wife and family, and how he stood with the embattled lacrosse players. Yet, he persevered, and ultimately the North Carolina State Bar acted in an unprecedented way — bringing charges against a prosecutor while the case was ongoing. Ultimately, this brave act by the bar brought Nifong off the case, and within three months of Nifong’s departure from the lacrosse case, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declared Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans to be "innocent" of all charges.

In the end, Duke University settled with Pressler for a sum of money that certainly was greater than any severance pay he received. Furthermore, the terms of the settlement did not prevent Pressler from being involved in writing a book that was none-too-flattering about Duke, Brodhead, and his underlings.

The good thing about It’s Not About The Truth is that it can be read both by people absolutely unfamiliar with the case and those like me who are very familiar with it. For those not familiar with it, the book lays out what happened in accurate detail. (Yaeger gets the early-morning timeline wrong for Crystal’s rape exam at Duke University Medical Center, but that error has no bearing on the story itself.)

And being that the lacrosse case is the Gift That Keeps On Giving, there are many interesting things to be found. For example, I did not know about Burness’ extra-curricular comments. I was not as familiar with some of the details of the party (that Pressler explains matter-of-factly), and I did not know about the Nartey email.

And I did not know about Pressler’s remarkable teenage daughter, Janet, who wrote a truly moving letter to Duke President Brodhead this past March. It was much more intelligent than anything we saw come out of Duke University during this self-created crisis, and it unequivocally demonstrates the kind of cowards and bullies that populate the Duke administration and positions of power and influence in Durham. Indeed, I would say that Janet Pressler’s letter itself is worth the price of the book.

Janet Pressler, you see, is about the truth. And so is this book.

June 25, 2007

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services.

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